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City v. Summerhays

Court of Appeals of Utah

January 26, 2017

South Jordan City, Appellee,
v.
Ian Summerhays, Appellant.

         Third District Court, West Jordan Department The Honorable William K. Kendall No. 141401851

          Tyler B. Ayres, Attorney for Appellant

          Edward R. Montgomery and Rachel E. Otto, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Stephen L. Roth authored this Memorandum Decision, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

          ROTH, Judge

         ¶1 Before us is an interlocutory appeal from a denial of a motion to dismiss criminal charges that implicates the Fifth Amendment's Double Jeopardy Clause. We affirm.

         ¶2 In late 2013, Defendant Ian Summerhays allegedly violated a protective order by contacting his ex-wife via text message, and South Jordan City charged him with two counts of violating a protective order as a result. The prosecutor charged the violations as class B misdemeanors and filed the criminal information in South Jordan City Justice Court. Summerhays pleaded guilty to one count and began serving a ten-day jail sentence.

          ¶3 Summerhays immediately appealed his conviction to the district court, where he moved to dismiss the charges as improperly filed.[1] In the motion, Summerhays noted that justice courts have no jurisdiction to consider any criminal charge above a class B misdemeanor. He also correctly pointed out that violation of a protective order is classified by statute as a class A misdemeanor. Compare Utah Code Ann. § 78A-7-106(1) (LexisNexis Supp. 2016) (“Justice courts have jurisdiction over class B and C misdemeanors, violation of ordinances, and infractions committed within their territorial jurisdiction by a person 18 years of age or older.”), with id. § 76-5-108(1) (“Any person . . . who intentionally or knowingly violates [a protective order] . . . is guilty of a class A misdemeanor[.]”). Accordingly, Summerhays argued that the justice court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the charged offenses.

         ¶4 The district court agreed and concluded that the justice court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the alleged crimes. Cf. id. § 78A-7-106(1). The court therefore vacated his conviction, dismissed the case, and released him from jail. By the time of his release, Summerhays had already served seven days of his ten-day jail term. South Jordan then filed a new information against Summerhays, this time correctly charging the violations as class A misdemeanors and properly filing the case in district court.

         ¶5 Summerhays moved to dismiss the charges against him, arguing that the Double Jeopardy Clause prevents him ‚from being twice put in jeopardy [of punishment] for the same crime.‛ The district court rejected that argument and ruled that ‚jeopardy did not attach in the justice court case because the South Jordan City Justice Court did not have jurisdiction in that original action." On that reasoning, the court denied the motion to dismiss and Summerhays took an interlocutory appeal to this court. Because a "trial court's grant or denial of a motion to dismiss is a question of law, ' the "standard of review . . . is correctness." State v. Griffin, 2016 UT 33, ¶ 15, 384 P.3d 186 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A correctness standard "means the appellate court decides the matter for itself and does not defer in any degree to the trial judge's determination of law." State v. Anderson, 929 P.2d 1107, 1108 (Utah 1996) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶6 The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no person shall "be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." U.S. Const. amend. V. This concept, known as double jeopardy, is "fundamental to the American scheme of justice, " Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784, 796 (1969) (internal quotation marks omitted), and "stem[s] from the underlying premise that a defendant should not be twice tried or punished for the same offense, " Schiro v. Farley, 510 U.S. 222, 229 (1994). Specifically, the Double Jeopardy Clause protects criminal defendants against (1) "a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal, " (2) "a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction, " and (3) "multiple punishments for the same offense." Jones v. Thomas, 491 U.S. 376, 381 (1989) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶7 The question presented in this appeal is whether jeopardy attached during Summerhays' initial prosecution in justice court and if so, whether the City was thereby barred from refiling the charges against him in the district court. That question in turn hinges on when, and in what circumstances, jeopardy attaches to a defendant. The Supreme Court "has consistently adhered to the view that jeopardy does not attach, and the constitutional prohibition can have no application, until a defendant is put to trial before the trier of facts, whether the trier be a jury or a judge. " Serfass v. United States, 420 U.S. 377, 388 (1975) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "In the case of a jury trial, jeopardy attaches when a jury is empaneled and sworn. In a nonjury trial, jeopardy attaches when the court begins to hear evidence." Id. If neither circumstance applies, then "[i]n general, jeopardy attaches at the time the guilty plea is accepted." United States v. Avila-Gonzalez, 611 F.App'x 801, 803 (5th Cir. 2015); accord State v. Horrocks, 2001 UT App 4, ¶ 26, 17 P.3d 1145 ("Jeopardy, however, attached when the justice court accepted defendant's pleas.").

         ¶8 Here, Summerhays argues that jeopardy attached. However, it is well settled "that before a person can be said to have been put in jeopardy of life or limb the court in which he was acquitted or convicted must have had jurisdiction to try him for the offense charged." Grafton v. United States, 206 U.S. 333, 345 (1907). Thus, when "a criminal defendant was never tried by a court of competent jurisdiction, retrial is appropriate and does not violate the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution." State v. Payne, 892 P.2d 1032, 1033 n.5 (Utah 1995) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶9 Under this firmly established principle, it appears that Summerhays was never in jeopardy because the justice court lacked jurisdiction over the offenses charged, which were by statute class A misdemeanors and beyond the scope of the justice court's authority. We now turn to Summerhays' arguments to determine whether they ...


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